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Rannerdale Knots from The Attermire Scars

Around Langcliffe (and other) scars

My old copy of Eric Langmuir’s venerable “Mountaincraft and Leadership” book contains many a useful tip for the walker, and was a good companion, as a lad, getting me going in the hills. It tells you things like what to carry in your rucksack, what to do if you’re caught out in a thunderstorm, how to ford a river, and how to use a map and compass. But nowhere does it tell you what to do when there’s a bull sitting on the right of way.

We’re in the Yorkshire Dales today, among the many scars and crags above Langcliffe, in Ribblesdale. We’ve had a cloudy start, but the forecast tells us it’ll clear by 2:00 PM. It’s a dynamic sky, lots of textures, but so far the light is flat. Much has been made in recent weeks of the parched brown countryside of the South East, but here everything is green, and there are puddles. It’s warm, but not oppressively so, and there’s an earthy smell after last night’s rains.

We’ve left the car on the road up from Langcliffe, around the 1200′ contour. This little altitude booster brings the walk in at just under eight miles and gets us off to a good start, with some fine views over Ribblesdale.

For the first leg, we head south along the line of the Attermire scars. The plan is for a circuit of the moorland between Settle and Malham, making use of the Dales High Way, and the Pennine Bridleway. We’ll follow it nearly as far as Pikedaw, overlooking Malham, then head North-ish towards Malham Tarn, and finally west, back to the car. It’s not a day of peak-bagging, then, more one for the views of some fine Dales country, and to explore a circuit that’s been nagging at me for a while. First, though, the bull.

He’s a handsome beast, but he looks a bit – well – knackered, surrounded by recumbent cows. It’s that old question, then: can cattle be trusted not to flatten you? The answer to which is: not entirely.

The common sense advice is that, if in doubt, find another way round, but there are no other ways, and anyway this is pretty much open country. If they were in a mood to be frisky, they could be chasing us for miles, and I wouldn’t make a hundred yards. There’s a fence and a gate, a little way beyond, but for that we have to run the gauntlet. What to do? If you ask this question on the hiking forums, you’ll set the Internet on fire with unhelpful opinion. But just like life in general, you can only read the situation in front of you, and it feels okay, so we carry on.

I rarely have trouble with cattle, but it’s still a comfort to put that gate between us. Cattle roam the hills freely here, though, so this won’t be our last encounter. They do seem to enjoy congregating around stiles and gates. My usual approach is to speak to them gently as we pass. It doesn’t matter what you say, of course. It’s a different if you have a dog with you. Then cattle are best avoided, because they hate dogs, and you might find yourself collateral as they try to trample it.

The Attermire Scars and the Rannerdale Knots

The Dales High Way and the Pennine Bridleway coincide at Attermire, and take us up towards the remote Stockdale Farm. The light is beginning to break through a little now, making soft speculative sweeps of the hillsides. The outlook west, behind us as we climb, to the scars, and Rannerdale are especially striking. There are several parties climbing on the crags, by the deep gash of the Horseshoe Cave.

I read there’s a new revised edition of Langmuir’s book, published by The Mountain Training Boards of England and Scotland. I wonder if I should get it, and wonder in particular what it has to say about navigating by Smartphone, and GPS? Probably nothing good. My old copy from 1985 has a foreword by Lord Hunt. These were a hardy breed of men, unlikely to be troubled by cattle. Hunt trained commandos in mountain-craft, during the second war, but is best known as leader of the first successful expedition up Everest in 1953. Postwar there was a rush of people heading into the hills, many of them ill prepared and coming to grief for want of basic knowledge, so there was an effort to set standards, and Langmuir did a sterling job. The Insta generation has brought about a similar rush of ill prepared folk.

Stockdale farm and Ryeloaf Hill

Anyway, I think it’s okay to navigate by smartphone. Mine is waterproof, has OS 1:25000 mapping, a three-day battery, and I carry a spare powerbank. It tells me exactly where I am, all the time. A paper map can just as easily let you down, as anyone who’s tried to read one in a gale force wind will tell you. A compass too can be dangerously misleading in hills that are rich in iron ore.

There are, of course, no simple solutions to every eventuality. You think you’re sorted, well kitted out, got the proper togs, the tech, and you know your Langmuir back to front,… then there’s a bull sitting on the footpath saying: you didn’t see this one coming, did you? Life is never without risk. Venturing into the hills, one accept this, prepares as best one can and takes responsibility for oneself. But let’s not big this up any more than we need to. We’re just out for the afternoon, not exploring the Andes.

The view up the valley is dominated by Rye Loaf hill. This is a remote peak, not walked very often, with as yet no clearly defined route up it. You’d have to make your own way across open country. Through binoculars, I can make out a rough wind-shelter and a survey column on top, all of which is very tempting, but I’ve still got blisters from my last outing, so we’ll stick to the planned route, and no deviations.

It feels like we’ve come a long way, meandering eastwards, up to the high point – this being around seventeen hundred feet. There’s a huge cairn to set our bearings by, here. I’d say it was unmissable, but on another occasion I’ve walked past it in mist and not known it was there. It’s a mystery actually, not marked on the maps, and consists of what resembles builders’ rubble. It makes for good foreground interest in the view over the Grizedales, to the distant splash of Malham Tarn.

The Grizedales to Malham Tarn

The path takes us east of north now, over the Grizedales as far as the junction with the path coming up from Malham. We seem to have left the heat behind at this altitude. The air is fresher and the scent of it is intoxicating. The bridleway bears west at a signpost which carries the daunting news Langcliffe is still four and a half miles away. It’s a long section, this, easy to follow, probably better undertaken on horseback. But, lacking a handy steed, we must make do on tiring feet, the path snaking away over the moor, forever teasing us with how far we’ve still to go. It’s not long before I’m thinking this section has little to recommend it, but then the outline of Penyghent hoves into view.

I think it was Alfred Wainwright who said the mountain Suilven, in Sutherland, had to be seen to be believed, and I agree with him, but that may have something to do with its remoteness. When I saw it, it was after a three-day drive into a sparsely populated area of the UK, soon perhaps to be another country. There is a definite otherness about that region, the wildness, the light, the emptiness. Suilven is an awe-inspiring hill, even getting a mention in a Ewan MacColl song. But it’s recently struck me Penyghent is only around a hundred feet shorter, and equally striking. It rears up dramatically, has a prow like a dreadnought battleship, and is often to be seen sailing over Ribblesdale, on a boiling mist. Penyghent too has to be seen to be believed. It’s just seen a little more often than Suilven.

Anyway, bang on schedule, 2:00 PM, the sky peels open, the sun comes through, and Penyghent starts showing off. We take some time to enjoy the light, but the feet have had enough now, and the path brings us full circle, just in time, delivering us back to the car. Tea and cake in Settle then? That would usually be the next move, but I’m a bit of a tight wad these days, and I’ve brought my own. We open the top to the sky, and enjoy the air. It was a good idea to park up here. The tea tastes all the better for the view.

Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living

Ewan MacColl

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